What an Honor! And I am Frightened!
A few months ago, A friend and coworker approached me with three amethyst gems that she has had in her bureau drawer for 19 years.
She wanted me to make her something special, as these gems were sentimental and special to her. She went on to say she wanted the big one to be a bracelet, and one of the smaller ones into a ring. The third stone could become anything–so I suggested perhaps a small pendant.
I don’t know about you, but I get a little bit nervous when creating a custom piece of jewelry, especially when your customer entrusts you with a very important stone or gem that means a lot to them. All sorts of scenarios go through my head such as–what happens if the stone breaks? What if I go through all the work and expense of designing and creating a piece, and they hate it? What if I lose the gem? What if, what if, what if?
So where do I start when someone asks for a custom order? In many cases, my customer knows what s/he is looking for, and will actually rough sketch a design idea. This makes things easier, however, there are some instances where the idea won’t work in real life. For example, a very big heavy pair of stones will not work well as dangle earrings, because of the weight. Another example would be that a certain setting style won’t work with a stone that is not flat on the bottom. And of course, the hardness, shape and size of a stone that would fit into a bracelet (Bracelets have a high probability of getting “banged up” so a stone should have a reasonable hardness to it).
So my job is very clear in these cases–I modify the design to make it “function” as close as possible to what my customer asked for–and I do it in a sketch BEFORE fabricating the piece. Usually, we make a few more modifications, and the design is born. This technique has so far worked very well for both the customer and me.
Sometimes, a customer will give me a stone, and tell me “You are the artist, surprise me!” Boy–does that scare me. In these cases, I do try to elicit a little more information—so I might ask them to send me a picture of their favorite piece of jewelry. With today’s cell phones, sending a photo is easy–and most people love to do it.
This at least gives me a sense of what style they like. I will certainly get wrist sizes, necklace lengths, and ring sizes before making a piece. I will often sketch an idea and ask the customer to approve it.
Back to the Amethysts. My friend and customer wanted me to just design something for her. So I hung on to those stones for quite some time (she wasn’t in a hurry, after all she has had the stones for 19 years), until the right inspiration struck me. This is the perfect case, because there was no pressure. And when the inspiration struck, I created the bracelet! I still have the ring and pendant to make–but stylistically, I know what I want to do now. Incidentally–she LOVES the bracelet!
But what happens if something goes wrong? I have a friend who is a jeweler, who told me that she received a special stone from someone who said it was given to her by her mother who had since passed away. My jeweler friend rendered the design with approval from the customer, and as she was making it, the stone broke in the setting. What a nightmare! In this case the customer was forgiving, but these things do happen. You cannot replace someone’s sentimental stone. So I am very aware of the responsibility being given to me.
I know of other stories where a customer provided a special stone, only to hate the design when it was finished. This has not happened to me (yet), but there IS a chance that a jeweler’s intuition for a design is not in line with what the customer had in mind. This is why communication is so important. But let’s face it–a rough sketch has many issues. You can’t always get the idea of “scale” (size) from a sketch. That pair of earrings may be way longer than the customer thought, or that pendant was so much bigger than what they wanted. That wide band ring might not fit over the knuckles. These are all considerations and things that can go so very wrong.
So I am honored when someone trusts me with a custom order. I am also nervous and scared that it won’t go as planned. But I also know that through good communication, continuous updates, and perseverance will help both me and my customer get exactly the piece of jewelry they want.
Here are 6 things to consider when asking a jeweler to make you a custom piece with a special gem or stone:
- Provide the jeweler with the stone (either in person, or online) before discussing the design.
- Make sure you communicate clearly what you want to have designed for you, including the design you want. Provide a rough sketch if possible.
- Discuss with your jeweler the feasibility of the design in protecting your precious stone.
- Provide a generous amount of time for the jeweler to get your piece finished. Pressure on a jeweler can be a recipe for a less than inspired design, or for mistakes to be made. If you do have a deadline, be very specific, and allow time for mailing if necessary.
- Ask the jeweler about policies for deposits on custom work. Are they refundable? What if the stone is broken, what is the restitution for that? Ask up front about lost or broken stones the customer provides.
- Provide the jeweler with your best way to communicate–phone, text, email or messenger? Which one will you check the most to provide a quick answer to a jeweler’s question. When a jeweler is in creation mode, you want to be able to answer his/her questions quickly.
- Tell the jeweler specifics about your needs. For example, if ordering a wide-band ring–do you have large knuckles? Are you sure about your ring size? Many stone rings cannot be easily re-sized once completed. Do you have issues with heavy earrings? Do you know what chain length you want for your necklace? Do you have trouble opening and closing clasps? What is your wrist size for a bracelet?
If you would like to view one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces that are available for sale, you can visit her ETSY Store.